Half of the fun of A Bug’s Life does not come from the story, but from the environments. All of them are filled with imaginative ways bugs would carry on their lives, assuming they had human-like intelligence.
As Flick (voiced by Dave Foley) enters into the bug city, the film comes alive. Popcorn boxes are skyscrapers. A broken tin can is a seedy bar. Street lights are holiday lights, manned by a lightning bug to direct traffic.
Completing the illusion is wonderful, witty writing. A fly cries out inside the bar, “Hey waiter, I’m in my soup!” Painfully groan inducing, but wonderfully implemented.
Bug’s Life story is simple enough to satisfy, concerning a mafia-like horde of grasshoppers dominating an ant clan for food (in a weird take on Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai). Kevin Spacey voices Hopper, leader of the grasshoppers, a hefty insect with a heavy scar across his eye. Pixar’s color schemes are beautiful, giving a blueish/purple hue to the ants, and drab brown to their enemies.
Ten years later, despite technology passing it by, the film looks wonderful. The animation is as lively as the writing. As Flick uses his newly invented machine and accidentally knocks over the entire food stack, he begins a panicked dance as the grain falls into a river. Despite the desperateness of the situation, it generates a strong laugh. It is a wonderful set-up to Flick’s general clumsiness despite his enthusiasm.
As with nearly all of Pixar’s efforts, A Bug’s Life appeals to all. Minor adult gags that will go over the heads of small children (including extensive talk of death) are consistent. Some cheaper gags still work without pulling the older viewer out of the film, mostly because these small gags seem appropriate given the scale of the world.
Maybe that’s another reason A Bug’s Life works. The opening visual is of a tree on a small hill, with the computerized camera zooming into a blade of grass. From there, the camera is locked into this miniature world for the duration, or at least until the final shot brings the movie full circle. The sense of scale is never broken or lost, keeping the viewer in this vibrant, lush ant world without trying to escape. You buy into it, somehow forgetting these are ants, and hoping their struggle ends.
Movies such as A Bug’s Life are difficult to discuss in terms of their video. They offer a picture so pristine, so rich, so bold, that those few statements sum up the entire experience.
While the previous Disney DVD was a high point for the format (the first digital-to-digital transfer), this Blu-ray decimates its compressed, flat predecessor. Tiny textures, from the defined rocks of the ant’s lair, to the sheen of their digital exoskeletons, come through in startling clarity. Sharpness is rock solid, and the bright contrast causes the image to pop off the screen.
Colors are bold and saturated, creating rich greens that dominate the area outside the ant lair. Deep blues in the underground are wonderfully realized. The AVC encode shows no signs of banding or artifacting, even on the difficult long shots where individual blades of grass are clearly defined. This is outstanding material.
Disney labels the audio as a DTS-HD 5.1, but it comes through as DTS-HD 6.1. Like the video, this is an outstanding aural presentation. From the start, Randy Newman’s score bleeds into all channels, and the sound of various tiny insects making noise hits each speaker.
The low-end rumbles as the ants sound their warning horns, and as the grasshoppers invade, their destruction to the lair likewise satisfies. The city is lively, with insect cars perfectly moving through the available channels. In the third act, each new development is a moment of audio bliss, from the bird attack to the rain showers in which each drop of water delivers a sensational thud into the subwoofer.
Extras are mostly carried over from the two disc DVD, with two new additions. A filmmakers roundtable has John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Darla K. Anderson, and Kevin Reher discussing their experience. This is newly filmed, so this group is able to look back at the challenges and fun they had creating the film. The second new feature is the original story concept, narrated by Dave Foley and animated in storybook fashion.
A commentary from Lasseter, Stanton, and editor Lee Unkrich is just as lively as it was back on DVD. Grasshopper and the Ant is a classic Disney short that inspired the Pixar crew and has now been remastered in HD. The results are pleasing.
Four separate making-of sections cover story, abandoned concepts, test footage, loads of galleries, animation, and promotional material. A separate section on the outtakes at the end of the film (one of the best parts) discusses the idea, and showcases an additional set. The latter material in this paragraph totals over 80 minutes of content, and that’s not even including the usual Pixar short, Geri’s Game. Simply awesome material.